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Which Bible Characters Struggled with Depression?

The heroes of the faith loom so large in the consciousness of believers that it often comes as a surprise—and a comforting reassurance—to realize that they were every bit as human as we are. After all, if God worked in the midst of their struggles and weaknesses to accomplish his will—often in extraordinary ways—he can and will do the same in our lives.

Case in point: if you’ve ever struggled with depression, you may find comfort and encouragement in knowing that several well-known Bible characters seemed to struggle with it as well.

David

In Psalm 42:11, David asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” The beloved king of Israel seemed to have it all. He had enjoyed more victories and success than any other leader in Israel’s history. He was revered by his subjects and respected by his enemies. He had wealth, prestige, and family. God called him a man after his own heart.

Yet David was no stranger to the dark night of the soul. All of the accomplishments and adulation in the world couldn’t insulate him from bouts of depression.

Elijah

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah scores one of the most decisive victories in the Old Testament. He challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest. He will prepare one altar; they will prepare another. The God (or god) who sends fire to receive his offering will be declared the God of Israel. The prophets of Baal are unable to elicit so much as a spark from their god. Elijah’s God, on the other hand, sends a fire that consumes everything in its path, leaving no doubt as to who deserved Israel’s worship.

When his mountaintop experience ended, Elijah crashed—hard. A few verses later, we read this: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’” (1 Kings 19:4).

Naomi

Naomi’s future looked bleak. Her husband had died. So had her two sons, leaving no one to provide for her. She was stranded in a foreign land with no clear sense of how she was going to survive. Naomi’s story is found in the book of Ruth. At the center of the story is the bond between Naomi and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who is also widowed.

Yet even that bond is not enough to lift the spirits of Naomi. Her bitterness and despair pour out in Ruth 1:20–21. When Naomi and Ruth return to Naomi’s hometown, the women recognize Naomi and greet her by name.

But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Jeremiah

StormsThe ministry God called Jeremiah to was a difficult one. Nicknamed the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah was often the bearer of bad news. He was rejected, despised, and punished by the people he was sent to minister to. He remained faithful to God and resilient in the face of ridicule, but he felt the pain of loneliness deeply. His words in Jeremiah 20:14, 18, will resonate with anyone who has struggled with depression:

Cursed be the day in which I was born! Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me! . . . Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?

Each of these people has an important story to tell—one that involves depression but doesn’t end there. Their stories also include wonderful, thrilling, and heartwarming accounts of how God worked in and through their lives to accomplish his will.

 

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INTERESTED IN KNOWING MORE ABOUT THE WRITERS AND CHARACTERS IN THE BIBLE? CHECK OUT THESE ARTICLES:

WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF ROMANS?
WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF JOSHUA?
WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF JOB?

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This commentary is from the New King James Study Bible. With more than 2 million copies sold, it’s no secret that the NKJV Study Bible is a reliable guide for your journey into God’s Word. This Bible provides a complete resource for study, including thousands of notes, articles, extensive cross-references, and features contributed by top evangelical scholars.

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Finding Hope in the Depths of Grief

Understandably, a thread of grief runs through the gospel account of Jesus’ crucifixion. We’re given glimpses of the people who were closest to Him—snapshots that allow us to imagine their pain and loss. As the story progresses from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, a second thread winds itself into the narrative—a thread of healing and joy.

These two threads continue throughout the New Testament and extend to us some 2,000 years later. Everyone whose hope is in Christ can find comfort and healing by tracing these threads back to their source.

By looking at the grief surrounding Jesus’ death, we can find encouragement to help us cope with our own grief and loss.

 

The Disciples

Imagine the grief of the men who had left everything to follow Jesus. For three years, they had shared in His ministry—the highs and the lows. They had watched Him still a storm at sea with just a few words. They had seen Him cure all manner of sickness and disability. They had been transformed by His teaching. Jesus had impacted each of them in extraordinary ways, and suddenly they were faced with the prospect of life without Him.

Compounding their grief was their realization that Jesus had warned them about what was going to happen—on several different occasions, in fact. Yet they had refused to listen or to accept the literalness of His words. So, when it finally happened—the betrayal, followed by the arrest and the crucifixion—they were caught by surprise. They scattered to save themselves and never had a chance to say their proper goodbyes.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples in a closed room. He spent time with them, helping them overcome their grief and comforting them with His presence. When Thomas, who was not present in the room, later expressed doubts about what the others had seen, Jesus appeared a second time. Thomas’ doubts—and grief—disappeared forever.

Peter

Imagine the grief of Jesus’ closest friend and self-styled protector. Peter’s sense of loss was magnified by his own devastating personal failure. Hours after vowing never to desert the Lord, Peter denied—on three separate occasions—even knowing him. As far as Peter knew, Jesus’ last memory of Him was his betrayal of his vow.

John 21:15–19 records the risen Jesus’ reconciliation with Peter. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Three times Peter replied that he did. And three times Jesus instructed Peter to care for His lambs and sheep. He restored Peter’s heart and soul and prepared him to serve.

Mary 

Imagine the grief of Jesus’ mother. From the time she conceived, Mary understood that her son would be the long-awaited Messiah—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

Yet that didn’t change the fact that He was also her son. She saw nails driven into the hands that she had held when Jesus was a boy. She stood silently while a crowd hurled insults and spewed hatred at her firstborn child. Mary had watched Him draw His first breath, and she watched Him draw His last. Hers was the terrible grief of a mother who lives long enough to see the death of her child.

Hers was also the inexpressible joy of seeing that which she feared lost forever returned to her. When she saw the risen Jesus, those things which she had “pondered . . . in her heart” since his boyhood (Luke 2:19) suddenly took on a new meaning.

Jesus

The grief of His disciples, His closest friends, and even His mother paled in comparison to the grief Jesus Himself experienced when His heavenly Father turned away from Him. On the cross Jesus “became sin”—the object of His Father’s perfect wrath. The intimate fellowship with God that had sustained Jesus throughout His earthly ministry was broken. Jesus felt the full force of God’s abandonment. He was alone in a profoundly disturbing way. His grief pours from His lips as He quotes Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When His sacrifice was completed and God’s plan for salvation was fulfilled, Jesus was restored to fellowship. According to Ephesians 1:20, he sits at the right hand of His Heavenly Father.

Us

Two thousand years later, we come to Good Friday with the benefit of hindsight. We know what happened on Easter Sunday. So, we react to Jesus’ sacrifice not with grief, but with a sense of unworthiness and overwhelming gratitude. Yet we’re no strangers to grief. Where do Jesus’ death and resurrection leave us as we struggle with our own devastating losses?

Because of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, those who put their trust in Jesus will live forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father. We may not be able to wrap our minds around everything that entails, but we do know this: because of Jesus’ redemptive work, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Rev. 21:4).

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